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Put together a man with a humble spirit, who for eight years scrapped brilliant compositions until birthing his distinct voice, tintinnabuli (Latin for “little bells”)—and you will thrill with the Estonian genius of Arov Part. I had such an experience.

His Miserere (1992) presents an awesome response to the Ukrainian burning, together with the long look at death’s specter. Stunned are our psyches with grief this Holy Week as we listen. Two liturgical hymns comprise this choral work: the Miserere, the great penitential Psalm 51, and the Sequence Dies Irae, found in the Roman Catholic Mass of the Dead. The composer’s Intimacy with the living Word of God shimmers in each note of the score.

As the piece opens, five soloists implore repeatedly for mercy, accompanied by woodwinds and percussion. Pregnant pauses for reflection follow, slowly building toward thundering drum-rolls: Catastrophe has struck—monumental shuddering follows in its wake. With its resolution, the choir ascends to radiant heights over the deep-throated resonance of the organ, tam-tam, and bell. Then it’s over. Earth knows peace.

We open our eyes and blink, then breathe. Mercy’s sweetness enfolds us within humble silence, until the next wave of grief… and the next theophany—the story of our lives.

Why Are You So Afraid? (Matthew 8:26)

Another question that I pose to myself casts light upon my present experience and probes the depths of my psyche.

In some ways, I’m prepared to make my transition, but it does not happen: life still burgeons my desire to live; especially following short walks, outdoors, with my caregiver. Only today did I touch the red stamen of a yellow magnolia blossom growing in a neighbor’s yard, then gloried in Creator God. Never have I seen such coloration.

But the despoliation of our global world also terrifies me. To this, a friend always responds, ”God knows what he’s doing!” followed by the imperative to trust.

Yet, fears can suck my resolve and warp mental functioning like pesky mosquitoes feasting on road-kill. Such intrusions feel like another has usurped my power, cut moorings to the familiar, and relegated me to the ash pit, mangy with week-old garbage.

Happily, I’ve learned the way out: practicing Steps Six and Seven of Chronic Pain Anonymous in the presence of Jesus of Nazareth: mustering readiness for the removal of fears and humbly asking that such occur. Occasionally, I telephone for help if the fears persist.  

This works, like nothing else that I’ve tried, but I still have to keep practicing; its result, on-going spiritual cleansing, essential for living eternally.

If you love the truth, be a lover of silence. Silence like the sun will illuminate you in God—a trenchant saying attributed to the seventh-century Isaac the Syrian, Bishop, theologian, and monk, and regarded a saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Such words reveal the unseen caught in the flux of time. Key to this process is passion, whose firelight, like the sun, ignites inner worlds and cleanses them. But who cares to go there—To discipline unruly instincts clamoring for expression? That would be like dying. Such flies in the face of our cultural mores, entrapped in denial, rationalization, and idealization. The predictable is more comfortable, yet soulless.

It does not take much to see who is truly alive among us: their quickening gaze, their resonant voices, their laughter—They just seem to know. During my work years, I had sought out such teachers.

One of these was Ocie, a hospice patient with cropped white hair, a toothless grin, the frayed shirttails of her deceased husband spilling over her shorts. Barefoot, she leaned into her quad cane as she hobbled to the door. Of no importance, her right side shriveled by stroke, her fingernails still dirtied from back-porch gardening.

Hilarity enlivened her cramped bungalow, filled with bookcases of salt and pepper-shakers from most of the States, rusted birdcages she had used for breeding canaries, stacks of faded albums jammed with photos, and a dusty Singer sewing machine half-buried beneath swatches of cloth. As we walked to her kitchen, mating turtles outside the window unleashed her squeals.

Ocie’s ensuing story shimmered with fires of all magnitudes. Like Simon the Syrian’s silence, hers was also tinged by uproar, thereby mirroring God’s outrageous humor.

I still smile remembering her gusto, despite the shortness of her days.

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